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Keeping Tabs: Strange Places and Safe Havens

On accountability – as readers, writers, and members of society.


This past Fourth of July had us thinking about how to “build bridges,” in the words of poet Zeina Hashem Beck, across divides with others and within ourselves. This week’s link collection focuses on dealing with discomfort, from Melissa Sipin’s meditation on Alex Tizon’s Atlantic cover story to a conversation on cultural appropriation with novelist Saikat Majumdar. These pieces reveal how reading and writing are opportunities to reexamine one’s worldview—how holding oneself and others accountable does not have to be an act of distance, but rather an act of closeness.

“Filipineza” doesn’t mean “servant”: Notes of witness from an immigrant daughter by Melissa R. Sipin

Last roundup, we included a comic by our former Open City fellow, Sukjong Hong, in response to an Atlantic cover story by Alex Tizon. Hong writes, that “Eudocia’s bondage is not just one individual’s condition,” and this article by Melissa Sipin elaborates on that idea.

I am not here to absolve Alex Tizon, his family, mother, father, or great-grandfather, the upper and middles classes of the Philippines, or even my father. They and Tizon cannot be absolved: He was complicit, they are complicit, we are complicit by virtue of living and paying taxes in America that fuel the neoliberal and foreign policies that create these industries of modern-day slavery. This is why the industries of memory have lauded Tizon’s piece in The Atlantic, and it is lauded because of the very reasons that gave critics of his essay their knee-jerked and triggered reactions: his essay, by virtue of The Atlantic’s power and reach, conforms the single story of the Filipino as victim (and only victim) and as oppressor of his own people.

We Weren’t Born In The Cities We Long For by Abby Carney, with Zeina Hashem Beck

In this piece, GOOD Magazine interviews award-winning Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, who explains how “good art turns strange places into safe havens.” Zeina and the interviewer discuss displacement, poetry as an art form, and why “it’s the reader’s responsibility to research the towns, people, and historical events referenced in her poems.”

Still, I never ever want to hear someone say, “Zeina represents the Arab world.” No. I do not write to feed the voyeuristic gaze of the Western world. I fight against it. I also don’t want someone to say, “Oh, those poor Arabs” when they read my poetry. I want them to Google—just as I have Googled in my reading of “white literature” …despite the fact that that experience wasn’t mine, I built that bridge. That is what poetry does—it does build bridges. And I expect people to do the same.

Why are writers and critics around the world worrying about (or ignoring) cultural appropriation? with Saikat Majumdar

In this interview with, novelist and academic Saikat Majumdar discusses what cultural appropriation means in a literary context and whether such appropriation can ever approach authentic representation. Majumdar also raises questions of appropriation within the Indian literary community, the composition of which is inextricable from the class politics surrounding “literacy and the culture of reading.”

The fundamental problem is that literature is the most bourgeois of all art forms–more so than music, art or even film–because of its rootedness in literacy and the culture of reading. Literature in English is doubly so in the Indian context, and hence vast swathes of life in this country outside its worldview. But like all challenges, this too, is a constructive one. So even bourgeois writers, even English-language writers like us who are the most bourgeois of all, must confront and break through our own worldview while writing–and this is not only an act of political liberation but of great aesthetic richness as well.

The Rookie Podcast: “The Good Kind of Magical Thinking” with Jenny Zhang and Roxane Gay

In Episode 13 of the Rookie Podcast, writer and Rookie contributor Jenny Zhang interviews Roxane Gay about her new memoir, Hunger. Zhang and Gay reflect on reading as an antidote to loneliness, feeling seen and unseen, and self-care.

[Hunger] was a very difficult book to write… After I wrote Bad Feminist, I thought “I would love to read something interesting about fatness.” And then I thought, “The book I want to write least is a book about fatness,” and I knew that was the book I had to write about the most. I definitely dragged my heels quite a lot but in the end I know that I wrote a book that I needed to write.